Plastics salesman Oshima disappeared without a word to anyone, and has been missing for two years. Shohei Imamura and his crew follow Oshima's fiancé Yoshie and actor Shigeru Tsuyuguchi as they investigate the disappearance.
This movie is likely a masterpiece and far ahead of most of the world cinema at the time of its release, and it should definitely be more widely known, but I didn't give it ten stars because of its rather lengthy runtime. Maybe it's because I've seen the film in fragments and not in one piece, but I still think that the runtime could've been polished, even though the pacing and the flow of the story is perfect. It's probably just the way I've seen it that made it a bit irksome.
Intentions of Murder (or Unholy Desire) is partially based on a story by Shinji Fujiwara and partially on director Shohei Imamura's actual sociological study on a woman living in northern Japan. The film bears some resemblance to Yoshishige Yoshida's The Affair (1967); both are about female protagonists in lifeless marriages whose lives get thrown in a pot after getting raped. Comparing the two films, we can see the differences between the two filmmakers' approaches; Yoshida is reserved, cold, delicate and geometrical, while Imamura's movie is messy, burning, instinct-driven and impulsive.
Intentions of Murder revolves around the issues of women in '60s Japan, presenting a cynical outlook with some dark humor and several moments of genuine suspense, almost Hitchockian to a degree. Sadako, the protagonist of the film, finds herself in a conflict of multiple repulsion; on the one hand, there's her librarian husband Riichi, who cheats her with a fellow lady of the library and treats Sadako like a slave, and on the other hand, there's the rapist/house intruder, who promises her better life but she's obviously repulsed by him. Both men are sick and of fragile health, and technically weaker than her, but due to patriarchal societal norms they naturally come on top and so Sadako has to fight against their influences, the only light of her life being her son, whom she loves immensely, and who gives her hope in her life.
The film also centers on a conflict between instinctual, traditional nature of Sadako's peasant self, and Riichi's strict, ordered civilized way of life. The contrast is laid out not only through the differing locations, the sunny farm and the categorized, orderly library, but also through the characters' bodies. As described by Imamura, Sadako is "Medium height and weight, light coloring, smooth skin. The face of a woman who loves men. Maternal, good genitals, juicy." She is like a Venus of Willendorf figure, with a large figure, plump breasts and strong maternal instincts (Riichi calls her "Mommy" during sex). On the other hand, Riichi is completely dry and pinched, looking almost lifeless in comparison to his wife. Imamura was always against the "veneer of business suits and advanced technology" and in favor of the "superstition and irrationality that pervade the Japanese consciousness", and in this movie he certainly shows it by siding with a woman who best represents natural instincts.
The cinematography in this movie is beautiful, it just is. The utilization of indoor rooms, moving set-pieces, freeze-frames, negative space, snowy areas, moving trains, composition of characters and the placing of the actors behind various spatial obstacles, to the obvious, but certainly not needless visual comparison with animals (see Imamura's The Ballad of Narayama), --in this case it's caged mice- it all makes for a very visually striking picture. Some shots beautifully utilize everything they're given in regards to the setting, like the swinging lamp scene where the lamp swings around a dark room, partially illuminating Sadako's exhausted body in the back room at turns. The soundtrack is interesting too, with many odd sound effects reminiscent of the "boing!" sounds from Ennio Morricone's music.
Intentions of Murder is truly an under-appreciated gem that should be known by everyone interested in '60 cinema. And when it comes to '60s movie industry, I think Japan had the best films by far.
The movie also deserves respect for having the only nightmare scene I've ever seen where the character DOESN'T spring up like on a trampoline as they're waking up. Here, Sadako wakes up as usual, only in cold sweat.
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